The government's ambition to close the learning gap that has occurred as a result of the pandemic hit a stumbling block today. After the Department for Education announced plans for a £1.4bn programme in schools to help children catch up, ministers were criticised for not going further in their proposals. Now the government’s education catch-up chief has resigned.
This evening, Sir Kevan Collins wrote to the Prime Minister to offer his resignation as education recovery commissioner. Collins cited the 'huge disruption to the lives of England's children' that the pandemic has caused, arguing that only a 'comprehensive and urgent' response would do. That recovery, he said, relies on 'significantly greater support than the government has, to date, indicated it intends to provide.'
He concludes in his letter that the offer on the table is lacking:
'I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.'
In response, a No. 10 spokesperson said:
'The Prime Minister is hugely grateful to Sir Kevan for his work in helping pupils catch up and recover from the effects of the pandemic'.
They added that the government would continue to 'focus on education recovery'.
It's understood that Collins was proposing a comprehensive £15bn programme, which the government drastically watered down. His plans met resistance from the Treasury, with the Chancellor keen to promote fiscal restraint. Officials were also pushing for proof of what works rather than the all out approach Collins advocated.
So what happens next? It's clearly not a good look for Johnson to lose the person responsible for the recovery programme. Ministers were already drawing criticism over the plans and Collins's departure will only give opposition parties more ammunition.
But ultimately, the problem the government faces goes beyond any one individual. The current proposals offer 100 million hours of free tuition for disadvantaged pupils, and there are reports of mooted plans to extend the school day. With Teach First research finding that disadvantaged pupils are twice as likely to have fallen behind during the pandemic, the question of whether more is needed is not about to go away.